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I am Grateful We Are Not Alone

I am Grateful We Are Not Alone

I just returned from a series of meetings and a conference in New York City. I was traveling solo most of the week which provided me plenty of alone time in the city.

In all the hustle and bustle of an urban landscape, I found myself wondering how people build and sustain community. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of people every day, I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with another human beyond occupying the same space.

My daughter just moved to a large city on her own and has shared her challenges of trying to find her tribe and community.

As a person who works daily on the art and practice of bringing people together to create change at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, I find it beneficial to experience this awkward disconnectedness from time to time. It is a powerful reminder of how quickly isolation and loneliness can take hold and how important it is for the Foundation to create equitable space and opportunity to engage with a diverse group of Southwest Floridians.

Community building and civic engagement are most effective when there is a shared goal, and a willingness to be vulnerable in connecting.

The last few days of my trip were focused on the Healthier Longer Lives for People with Serious Mental Health Issues international conference.

The conference was hosted by Fountain House, an organization dedicated to the recovery of men and women with mental illness by providing opportunities for its members to live, work, and learn while contributing their talents through a community of mutual support.

If the concept sounds familiar, it may be because Hope Clubhouse here in Fort Myers is modeled after Fountain House and part of an international network of clubhouses.

The focus of the conference was exploring the issue of the significantly earlier mortality of persons with a serious mental health issue (SMI) such as bipolar, schizophrenia or major depressive disorder in comparison to the general population.

People with SMI die 10-25 years earlier from a variety of causes including diabetes, cardio vascular disease and diabetes. Lack of community and social isolation plays a major role in these alarming statistics.

It seemed fitting that Fountain House would be the organization bringing people together around this pressing topic. Community building is at the core of all they do. The founding members of Fountain House met as patients in a state hospital in the 1940s, where they connected to form a respectful and supportive group and after leaving created a community and named themselves WANA for We Are Not Alone, to support each other in navigating life and recovery in the city.

I am grateful this community lives on right here in our city through Hope Clubhouse and the work of James Wineinger and his team. James worked at Fountain House for a number of years so he brings the passion, story and legacy of WANA with him to Southwest Florida.

When I left the conference where I was surrounded by friends and colleagues to the streets of strangers, I felt much less alone in the world and more certain that community can be formed in cities of any size.

For that I am grateful.

In this season of gratitude, think of the community you can form, change or include someone else who might be lonely or isolated.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.3 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $79.9 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit




Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More